Tag Archives: Daddy

Of Socks and Birthdays

I swept through the classroom, closing binders with one hand, even as I precariously aimed my foot at the reading rug and pillows scattered across the floor, trying to straighten them out in front of the fireplace.

“Beary! You got socks on? Time to roll!” I called down the hallway.

“I’m ready!” She emerged from her room with a stuffed cat and pointed a foot at me.

I glanced down and saw the solid blue star on the white background of her sock. A sock that didn’t begin to remotely match the outfit she’d put together, but totally made sense for the day. I looked at her and nodded. She nodded back and smiled. We didn’t have to say a word.

Dallas Cowboys socks on her birthday.

Of course.

It’s the day I miss Kevin most. Of all the beautiful things we created together – memories, traditions, a happy marriage, an incredible friendship – our little Bear is the most beautiful. And we made her. We made her. It still is such an awesome, gives-me-chills, mind-boggling realization. She is part of me and part of him, and all of God’s amazing plan. Infertility was our first struggle and I like to think it made us strong enough to face the fight with cancer that would come our way just two years later. In so many ways, our little miracle baby girl completed us, bringing more faith and love and happiness into our life than you could imagine six pounds and 12 ounces would be capable of holding.

And Kevin loved his Little Bear. Oh, how he loved her. Loves her still, as she reminded me not long after he died. He was fascinated by her and marveled at her tiny fingers and tiny toes and not-so-tiny baby cries. From the moment he walked in the door after work, he held her, hardly even putting her down to eat his supper. I always went to bed a little early, leaving her and Daddy sitting together in the front room, watching ESPN or reading a book. He’d feed her the nighttime bottle, then rock her to sleep. Sometimes I wonder what he whispered to her, as he cradled her in his arms, holding her close, his voice a soothing deep timbre in the dark. Did he tell her he’d always be with her? That she’d always be his little baby girl? That he’d love her forever…no matter what? Even if she wanted to date a Washington Redskins fan someday?

Yes, her birthday is the hardest day for me. I know life isn’t fair, but it seems so incredibly unfair that I get to be here, watching our little girl grow up, sparkling with magic and whimsy, and Kevin can’t share that joy with me. I feel guilt for celebrating this day that brought me so much joy, and I ache for what the two of them will never get to share, and I grieve because I want him here with us so badly. He’s supposed to be here – we’re supposed to do this part together. She’s so much like him – more every day, it seems. Her handwriting, her wry jokes; he would get such a kick out of her spot-on observations of the absurdities of life. She is the best thing I’ve ever done and I still can’t believe she belongs to me. How did I get so lucky? She’s nine now, going on twenty-nine it seems, and every day with her brings more delight – even the hard days.

And on that hardest of days, she surprised and delighted me again. I woke with a heavy heart, thinking of Kevin, memories of the night she was born chasing through my dreams. But her exuberant smile and birthday excitement were contagious. She ripped open her gifts and asked for leftover ice cream cake for breakfast – just like her Daddy. She chased the cats, made her bed, and read a book.

Then, to make sure Daddy was with her every step of the day, she pulled on her Dallas Cowboys socks – never minding the fact that sports socks don’t go with black Mary Janes.

She’s ready, all right. Ready to show me that he’s still here, still with us, still loving us, still part of this birthday celebration.

Somehow, over the last nine years, that tiny baby I snuggled close at the hospital turned into an amazing, smart, and brave girl. A girl confident in love and secure in knowing her Daddy is still with her.

I nodded again. It’s still a hard day, but it’s going to be okay. Our little girl is still bringing more faith, love, and happiness into my life than I could imagine. Thank you, God, for the gift of her. It’s her birthday, but she’s the gift.

“Okay, then,” I said. “Let’s go, birthday girl!”

And we were off.

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Joy in the Darkness

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The overcast sky allowed only a thin grey light to pierce the early morning shadows. I squinted my eyes, straining to make out the words in the book I’d been reading when the electricity snapped off. Rain fell steadily outside the window. It looked and felt more like a warm spring rain, even though the calendar showed us quickly reaching the end of the year. How could it be almost December already?

Unless I grab a flashlight to aim on the small print in this book, I thought, my reading is over until the electricity comes back on. I looked over at my daughter on the couch, her face lit up with the light from her iPod. She played Doodle Jump while the cats took advantage of the rare moment of peace and curled up on a cozy throw close by. As long as the battery held out, she was good for a while. The only sounds in the dim front room were the electronic sproings and beeps from her game and the soft splat of raindrops on the dead leaves outside the window.

There was a brief surge of light, a flicker of electricity that quickly went black again, but was on long enough to show me that the Christmas tree had been turned on when we lost power. My girl must’ve turned on the tree lights when she woke up earlier. We’d just put it up the weekend before, too anxious to get the Christmas season started to wait until after Thanksgiving like we usually did. With holiday songs streaming from the TV and those darn cats batting at every strand of beads I unwound, we’d made an afternoon of giggling and dancing and decorating the tree. Each ornament I handed her had its own story, and I reached deep into the past, into the story of her and Kevin and me, digging the treasured memories out one by one to present to her: this one from our trip to Chicago, and this one from Orange Beach, and this one from the year she loved Thomas the Tank Engine so much. Her beloved Dora the Explorer appeared on quite a few ornaments; so did Kevin’s New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. Each green branch of the tree, bent under the weight of the colorful ornaments, became a page spilling over with our memories, heavy with our family history.

But now I stared at the tree, incredulous at what I saw perched in its darkened branches.

JOY.

The glittery lime green ornaments, in the shape of letters that spelled out JOY, sparkled brightly in the dim room, even though no twinkling white lights illuminated them.

I couldn’t stop staring.

JOY.

I’d gotten several boxes of those ornaments for twenty-five cents each at an after-Christmas sale a few years ago. Last year, I pulled them out for the first time, when I was desperately seeking some joy in a season that only felt melancholy and impossible in the middle of my grief. I stuck them haphazardly in among the branches, and they balanced precariously, which was exactly how I’d felt: stuck and off-balance in this new life without Kevin. I hoped they’d remind me to feel something – anything – during the Christmas season, because I needed to. For me, for Kevin, but especially for my girl, who still deserved all the magic of Christmas. It sort of worked, I guess, but the bright green color got a little lost among the dark green branches and sparkling lights and the overwhelming assortment of rich colorful ornaments, and I’m not sure I remembered to look for the JOY when I walked by the tree.

It was a hard Christmas.

But now?

Well, now, with the electricity off and the tree in solemn darkness, there was no missing it.

All over the tree, in all the hidden nooks and bent branches, JOY shone out brightly.

JOY.

In the midst of darkness, it shines.

In spite of the darkness, it glimmers.

Because of the darkness, it glows.

And I needed to see it.

Because Christmas is still hard this year. Kevin’s not here, and that’s not any easier to reconcile: the mourning and the magic. And in the midst of this season, I need to be reminded that God is still here, even when grief clouds my life and it’s hard to see His light, or any light, in all the sad, depressing shadows. He is still with me, with my girl, still guiding our steps and catching the tears. He is still holding Kevin close to His side, and me and my girl even closer, murmuring words of comfort, of peace.

He is still bringing joy to our life. Joy in the memories, joy in the love, joy in the hope only He offers.

When the darkness comes, joy shines ever brightly.

I Will Remember

She doesn’t sit and cuddle up with me as much as she used to, so when she snuggled her head into my shoulder and I felt her warm breath soft against my neck, the song rose unbidden and filled the air around us. I didn’t even think about it – just closed my eyes as her fingers tangled in the ends of my hair – and sang the words low into the night.

Toora-loora-loora
Toora-loora-li
Toora-loora-loora
Hush now, don’t you cry
Toora-loora-loora
Toora-loora-li
Toora-loora-loora
It’s an Irish lullaby

I remembered all the words, though it’s been years since I sang my Bear to sleep. I sensed, rather than saw, her beautiful mouth curve into a smile as she curled more closely into me. She remembered, too.

My voice broke as I struggled to finish the song through the tears that filled my throat and threatened to spill from my eyes. It’s so lonely, sometimes, being the only one who remembers. Her daddy fought so hard to stay with us long enough that she would remember him, to have her own stories to tell of him, but I’m the only one who remembers so many of the details of her life – our life as a family of three – before he died. If she’s to know the stories, the anecdotes, the inside family jokes – it’s up to me to hand them down, like some modern-day minstrel, wandering the lanes of my life with Kevin, weaving our story and giving her a sense of the family we were and the one we’ve become.

I could buckle under the pressure of being the family bard, and in that first wicked wave of grief, I did. I was frantic to remember everything and I showed myself no mercy. I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I wandered around in the night, blearily, wearily, trying to hold on to every memory that flooded my mind. Distraught, discouraged, drained – I knew I was going to fail at this one simple task: telling my girl about her Daddy.

I had to remember.

Then Grief’s heartless cousin Guilt moved in, making itself at home in the wreckage of my life. And I felt bad that I couldn’t remember the name of Kevin’s summer-league baseball team, or the names of the guys he roomed with in college, or the only phrase he remembered from high school Spanish. He’d told me all these things, but our daughter hadn’t heard them yet, and now…well, now, it was up to me and the answers weren’t right at my fingertips. So I got mad. Not at Kevin, but at cancer. Stupid, hateful, life-destroying cancer. If cancer hadn’t taken him away from us, our Bear would know these things, and more, about her Daddy. We only had ten years together – we were still learning things about each other, and now I’ll never know what I didn’t know about him.

The guilt and the anger and the grief pulled at me. I searched for joy and snatched moments of happiness, but those three dogged me and I worried about the things my girl would remember about me, about this time after Daddy died. I didn’t want her to think back to a frightened, irritated, worn-out mama who talked about keeping on and trusting God, but didn’t really seem to live it, who cried and yelled and desperately needed sleep. I needed to trust in the Lord with all my heart and seek His will and pray without ceasing and let Him comfort me in my mourning.

I needed to remember that my God will supply all my needs.

All my needs.

Even my memories.

He didn’t bring Kevin into my life, didn’t walk with us through the days of infertility and sustain us in the years of cancer, only to abandon me when Kevin died. He didn’t shower us with blessings, with comfort and joy and happy days, with heartachingly wonderful moments, and a beautiful Bear, only to leave me with no love and hope and no memories to hold on to in the dark days.

We will remember we will remember
We will remember the works of Your hands
We will stop and give You praise
For great is Thy faithfulness

You’re our creator, our life sustainer
Deliverer, our comfort, our joy
Throughout the ages, You’ve been our shelter
Our peace in the midst of the storm
….
When we walk through life’s darkest valleys
We will look back at all You have done
And we will shout “Our God is good
And He is the faithful One”

So I stop and I float and I pray and hold tight to His promises, and I live and love my girl and believe that all will be well; God’s working it out. He is good and He is faithful.

And I will remember. When I need to, I will remember, and she will, too. Words to a long-ago lullaby, stories of Kevin’s childhood, crazy travel mishaps, funny things that he and Beary did together.

But more than that, I will remember the love. Oh, the love. The glorious, life-altering, fill-me-up-to-overflowing love that spilled over and streamed through this home and bound the three of us together and created a family story we will tell again and again and again. That’s what I want my girl to remember most of all. The love. Whatever else I remember to tell her or forget to tell her, I want her to remember the love. God’s love. Her Daddy’s love. All the love we had for each other.

I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of thing you never forget.

“We Will Remember” by Tommy Walker

The Unremarkable Room

The room was unremarkable, really. Square-ish, small, with scuffed wooden floors and an outdated fireplace. But he could see the possibilities of that room and imagine it and in his mind it was the home library he’d always wanted.

“Hey, Baby Doll, we can line that wall with bookshelves and put a couple of leather chairs facing the fireplace. It’ll be great!” Kevin’s voice echoed in the mostly empty room.

His eyes shone as the space transformed in his mind. The scuffed floor disappeared as I entered his imagination. “And a cozy rug under our feet. Maybe a couple of lamps by the chairs for reading light. Oooh, and a low table in between our chairs for a cup of tea.”

“Quite right, old girl,” he clipped out in an appallingly bad British accent, then reached out to squeeze a hug around my waist. At my feet, our six-month-old baby Bear woke up in her pumpkin seat. Her Kevin-blue eyes blinked slowly as she twisted her head up toward our voices, then a giggle bubbled out.

“I think Beary likes this house, too,” laughed Kevin. “This is it. This is the one. Let’s do it.”

A few weeks later, with papers signed and new keys in hand, we moved into the house with the unremarkable room. The cozy rug went down in front of the fireplace and beautiful oak bookcases lined the long wall. We filled them with books, books, and more books – all the history we loved and read voraciously, arranged in a loose chronological fashion. No overstuffed leather reading chairs yet, but a floor lamp and an old lounge chair from Kevin’s bachelor days offered a place to sit, at least. A few toys scattered across the floor and a baby girl rolling in the sun lighting the room from double windows on the south wall completed the picture. No echoes in the room now, just happy baby babbling.

We surveyed the scene from the kitchen entry. “The books look nice, Baby Doll!” His voice rumbled by my ear. “Yeah,” I replied, “The shelves turned out so nice. And we’ll get the chairs eventually; it doesn’t have to be finished all at once.”

The years went by and the room never was finished – at least, not the way we’d first imagined. More toys found their way into the cozy space. A Christmas tree went up by the fireplace and Santa brought a play kitchen which fit perfectly, tucked into a corner of the room. An art easel and sturdy plastic Step 1 play table claimed the space on the rug in front of the fireplace. A bin of stuffed animals lounged in the warm window and a wooden train track nestled in the valley between the bin and the beautiful bookshelves. We laughed about how a tiny girl had taken over our hearts…and turned our dream library into a playroom.

A couple more years passed and we thought of the day when our girl would head to school and the playroom could finally turn to the library we still imagined from time to time. But plans changed again and the playroom turned into a classroom as Little Bear and I explored preschool fun together, then moved to full-time homeschool. When his declining health forced Kevin to leave work, he took on a new job as history teacher to our girl. Their matching blue eyes shone with pride as Beary recounted the morning’s lesson to me, with Kevin nodding when she glanced at him for confirmation about a fact.

I cleared the room out over the weekend. A hailstorm damaged our roof last spring, and it had started to leak by the fireplace in the classroom. New shingles and flashing fixed the problem outside, but some of the classroom ceiling had to be removed and replaced. A two-day project, I was told, but everything had to be taken out of the room before work could begin. Art carts and storage cabinets and bookshelves lined the hallway, while the classroom table found center stage in the kitchen. I took down all the maps and posters and the mostly empty room once more echoed with my footsteps. It felt like déjà vu.

The cats sniffed around, curious at the emptiness, and my girl danced around, delighting in the echo-ey reverberations that bounced off the walls. I stood in the middle of the room, on the still-scuffed wooden floors.

“Can you see it, Baby Doll?”

I heard his voice echoing from my heart.

I felt a tear slip down my cheek. Yeah, Kev. I can see it.

And I could, because I knew he didn’t mean the once-dreamed about library. We had a single dream for that room, but God gave us so much more, because our dream was so small and His plan is huge and perfect and He knew that a room filled with books couldn’t fill my life with the memories I’d need after Kevin died. I could see a laughing baby crawling across the cozy rug. I saw tea parties with Kevin’s crown perched precariously atop his head as he balanced himself on a toddler-sized chair. I saw our girl, completely splattered with paint, laughing gloriously as she swiped her hands across the easel and created “art” for Daddy’s office. I saw a manger and a reindeer and a Christmas tree with a little girl laying underneath, mesmerized by the twinkling white lights. I saw books and pencils and three-ring binders and our Bear at her study table, her little brain soaking up all the knowledge we poured over her. I saw all the love that filled this room every day and spilled over into the house, as the library gave way to a playroom and classroom.

That unremarkable room filled our life with extraordinary happiness and the memories of it all still echo in my heart. There is still so much aching and loneliness in my heart, but sitting there on the floor in that room echoing with Kevin’s voice and my daughter’s laughter, I felt a little less empty, a little more able to keep on going without him. We never got the library, but we got the life God allowed us to live – and, as Kevin predicted when we first saw the room…

It was great.

Don’t Stop Believin’

We could hear the strains of the national anthem as we hurried across the immense parking lot, headed to the main gate. A light breeze, unusually cool for July, fanned our rushing faces. I pulled the folded-up ticket printouts from my pocket, ready to hand them over to the guy with the scanner, even as I passed my bag to the woman who gave it a cursory poke then waved me on.

My girl tugged on my hand, reading off the numbered sections. “C’mon, Mama. Keep going this way.” And we walked and walked and swerved to avoid giggling groups of teenage girls in team shirts. Finally Bear announced, “Section 201. Here it is, Mama!” And we sank into our seats as the first inning played on.

“Sorry we missed the national anthem, Beary,” I apologized. “But we’ll definitely hear ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ – okay?”

She nodded, eyes on the crowd, on the sun-setting sky, on the ads flashing across the electronic billboard across the field from our seats. Taking it all in. She’s like her Daddy; she loves coming to a baseball game.

We snapped a quick selfie, posted to Facebook “Great night for a ball game! This one’s for you, Kevster”, then I sat and wondered. Wondered if we were doing the right thing. The game we came to last year, just after Kevin died, was so…magical, I guess, for want of any other way to describe it. Could we capture that feeling again? Capture feeling Kevin so close to us? My girl insisted on this tradition, insisted that we come to a baseball game, but did she know that it might not feel the same this year?

The first inning ended, the second began. “Mama, can we get some peanuts?” Part of the tradition. Peanuts and Dr. Pepper. She cracked them against her seat, then pried the peanut out, dumping the shell onto the concrete beneath her shoes. “Do you think Rafael will be here again?” Not our cat – the Australian college student from last year. When I said I doubted it, she replied, “Well, I think something special will happen. We just have to look for signs.”

Something special.

My eyes gazed across the field, to the first base line. We’d sat there for a Yankees game nine years ago. Me, about twelve weeks pregnant with the Bear and down with morning sickness all day long. The drive into the city had nearly done me in, and I was nauseous and unsure about being at a baseball game. But it was the Yankees, and Kevin’s little-boy excitement was pretty contagious. Determined to help me feel better, he bought some Sea-Bands at a local drugstore, little elasticized cloth bracelets that applied pressure to take away seasick feelings. I was skeptical, but willing to try anything at that point. At the game, we asked a woman in the row in front of us to take a photo, and it’s one of my favorites. We’re both smiling – Kevin because he’s about to see the Yankees, and me because for the first time in three weeks I wasn’t doubled over heaving. That was something special, for sure.

Just over a year later, we were back at the stadium, this time lugging a diaper bag and a baby girl. She slept through most of the game, and Daddy fed her a bottle when she woke up crying. He was so proud to bring her to her first baseball game. I didn’t know exactly how proud until sometime during a break between innings when giant messages started streaming across the jumbo-tron, and suddenly there was our daughter’s name with a big welcome from the baseball team. Then I knew why Kevin had asked for the camera. He stood snapping pictures of the message and the bright stadium lights were nothing next to the love shining from his face. I should’ve known he’d do something to mark the day. I have a photo of him holding Bear and her bottle, and it’s one of my favorites, too. Something special.

Another year passed, and we headed back to the city for a baseball game. It was a giveaway day at the stadium and as we walked through the gates, a guy handed Beary a stuffed koala bear. It was nearly as big as her tiny 16-month self; she grabbed it with both hands and a big smile broke out behind her binky. Nothing could tear her away from her new toy. We hadn’t counted on the weather turning cool and rainy, though, and I’d forgotten a sweater for my girl. So Kevin searched a couple of stadium gift shops until he found a child-size team jacket. He paid way too much for it, and it was too big, but we rolled up the sleeves and she was warm and snug, thanks to her Daddy. Again, a kind stranger took a photo of the three of us – and the koala bear – and, yeah, it’s one of my favorites. Kevin’s arm around me, the Bear on my lap, with her bink and her bear. Something special.

The game played on. And my girl kept finding signs of something special about to happen. A bit of cloud floating down in front of us — Daddy watching the game, she said. A bright flashing ad for her favorite long-term parking spot at the airport. A triple peanut – very rare, she informed me.

And then, I heard it. Just a handful of notes at the beginning of the crowd sing-along and my girl and I looked at each other. Stared at each other in disbelief.

Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere

“Hey!” she cried in surprise, hands flapping with joy. “Daddy sent us his song!”

The excitement in her voice was something special. I lifted her up on the seat beside me and wrapped my arm around her tightly. Tears streamed down my face as I heard her clear little voice sing out with such love and gusto the words her Daddy blared on his car stereo at every chance:

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to that feelin’

She was right. Something special happened.

I thought about how I’d felt just a few innings before. Wondering if coming to this baseball game was a good idea. Wondering if we could capture the magic of Daddy with us one more time.

I should have known better. I should have known that being in that stadium, with so many wonderful memories, where we shared so many great times, would be a good thing, a special thing. It always has been. I should have known he would still be with us, and we’d feel all the love he ever gave us, ’cause it goes on and on and on and on. Cancer couldn’t stop it; death can’t, either. That kind of love is something special.

I don’t know how you pulled that one off, Kevster, I thought, but I’m glad you did.

Don’t stop believin’.